Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy R. Pauketat

Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy R. Pauketat

Author:Timothy R. Pauketat [Pauketat, Timothy R.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781101104507
Publisher: Penguin
Published: 2009-07-30T04:00:00+00:00

The Cherokee twins, also called Thunderers, kill their Corn Mother, as did the twins of the Natchez, as well as those of a host of Mesoamerican peoples. Most famously, the son (or brother) of the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui chopped her up into pieces at one point, a mythical act commemorated in a great stone carving that sat at the base of the Templo Mayor in ancient Tenochtitlán (Mexico City). And, as archaeologist Robert Hall has noted, the Cherokee Corn Mother’s name, “Selu,” is strikingly similar to the root word “Xilo-” (pronounced “she-lo”) in Xilonen, the name of the young virgin Mexican corn goddess.8

Hall suggested that such stories hint at ancient links between Cahokia, the Prairie Plains and southern Native Americans, and their distant relatives in Mesoamerica. As inventoried in Hall’s writings and propounded by anthropologist Alice Kehoe, the possible Mesoamerican connections are multiple and suggest that influence traveled north to Cahokia. There are numerological parallels (twos, fours, sevens, and twelves), venerations of Venus and the sun, distinctive female sacrifice rituals, an Osage association of north with sky, post-Classic-Mexican-style knife blades made in Illinois, Mesoamericanlike hats, filed teeth, long-nosed-god imagery, and the occasional word whose morphology suggests a nonlocal origin. Even the construction of four-sided plazas and pyramids topped with public buildings might have been influenced by Mexican archetypes, although they also have a long, long history in eastern North America.

The Red Horn saga of the Ho-Chunk and the various other hero-brother stories are also strikingly similar to Mesoamerican stories, such as the Mexican account of the sky lord Quetzalcoatl and his double, Xolotl, who entered the underworld to retrieve the bones of people. This tale perhaps inspired another: the famous creation story of the Quiche Maya, as written down by Maya priests and entitled the Popul Vuh. In that story, saved somehow from destruction by Spanish priests, a pair of twin brothers, Hunahpu and Xblanque, were born to an underworld goddess called Blood Woman. Like the Ho-Chunk’s Red-Haired Giantess, Blood Woman was impregnated when the head of the semidivine father, stuck in a tree in the underworld (like Red Horn’s head on a pike), spat into her hand. After a series of adventures and ball games against their foes, as in the Ho-Chunk saga, the boys defeat the underworld gods and retrieve and reanimate their father’s head.

Some scholars believe that the similarity of these stories springs from a universal human tendency to see the world in dualistic terms: good and bad, light and dark, day and night, men and women, and upper and lower worlds. Others think that the common elements—severed heads, reincarnation, and games in some liminal land—mean that there were historical connections between North American and Mesoamerican peoples. For these scholars, the question is one more of timing and direction: Who influenced whom, and when?

The intriguing details of the Siouan stories, best represented by the Ho-Chunk Red Horn epic, prompt further questions. What about those giants, the thunderbird associations, the red hair, and, especially, the human-head earrings? These


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